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Porn Over P2Ps No Different

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Dec 9, 2003 12:00 AM PST    Text size: 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Government lawmakers are getting their fair share of porn exposure and they don't seem to be any closer to making a decision on how to stymie the flow of porn over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, their latest gripe since a September panel on the subject.

A recent study conducted by the research arm of the U.S. Congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO), set out to determine if the pornography traded over P2P networks is any more "offensive" than the regular old garden variety kind found just about anywhere on the net.

The study was initiated in response to the question of whether or not there is something particularly dangerous about the pornography on peer-to-peer networks, and how that accessibility effects children.

Many P2P software makers have been pressing the point that the pornography that is transferred over P2P networks is no more plentiful or illegal than the same content found on regular Internet websites, and that being singled out as child porn diseminators is an unfair allegation.

The results of the GAO's extensive porn undertaking, according to TechNewsWorld, determined that "smut distributed through peer-to-peer networks isn't inherently more dangerous than titillating matter found elsewhere on the Internet."

In a letter to congress and Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, the GAO wrote: "The pornography available on peer-to-peer networks is not necessarily more dangerous than the pornography available on websites or through other electronic means of dissemination."

Although the GAO felt strongly from its finding that the risk to children is still high and that juvenile users can be inadvertently exposed to pornography, including child pornography, when using P2P services.

During searches using keywords likely to be used by juveniles, the GAO obtained images that included 34 percent adult pornography, 14 percent cartoon pornography, one percent child pornography, and 7 percent of images that the GAO felt represented child erotica.

The agency went on to say: "With peer-to-peer networks, pornography is easily accessible to children and the risk of inadvertent exposure to pornography is significant. However, pornography is also easily accessible through other electronic means, such as websites, and the risk of children's inadvertent exposure to pornography exists on these other mediums as well."

According to research firm the Yankee Group, Internet users aged 14 and older downloaded 5.16 billion audio files in the United States via unlicensed file-sharing services in 2001.

"Although some users of peer-to-peer networks might believe that they are sharing files anonymously, it is possible for law enforcement officials to discover identities of individuals sharing child pornography and other illegal material on peer-to-peer networks," the GAO wrote in its letter, as reported by TechNewsWorld.

However, the GAO also determined that tracking down P2P users, whether involved in the distribution of child porn or copyrighted material, will be a major challenge based on the fact that most P2P networks are "decentralized systems."

Also included in the GAO's research agenda was the discovery of how much child porn over P2Ps actually gets reported. In its findings, the GAO determined that peer-to-peer networks accounted for only about 1.4 percent of the more than 62,000 reports of Internet-related child porn collected this year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The GAO concluded its study by stating that law enforcement agencies should plan to devote more resources to P2P technology and continue their efforts to develop effective strategies for addressing this problem.

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